Thursday 29 April 2010

Grant Snider's Incidental Comics

I've just discovered the work of cartoonist Grant Snider: wonderful artwork and a wry sense of humour, tackling such subjects as art, gig-going, beards (!), growing up, commuting, and more. Check out Grant's blog, Incidental Comics, for more comics goodness, all the way from Kansas City.

This picture reminds me I haven't been to see a band for ages. Must have words with the bank manager.....

Wednesday 28 April 2010

Bunny suits, bad dreams, bridges, Drunk Girls I was a secret agent of some kind, possibly James Bond, definitely wearing a tuxedo underneath my boiler suit / climbing gear. I was climbing up the side of a massive bridge, which was simultaneously The Bridge from the Iain Banks novel of the same name and also the bridge over the M5 near where I used to live. It stretched on for miles with no apparent beginning or end, connecting nothing to nothing. I was going to blow it up.

The pillars of the Bridge were seemingly encrusted with houses, shops, factories, shanty towns, all now empty in the darkness, except for one ultra-modern building near the top. This was the Secret Base of the Conspiracy. I climbed in through the window of an empty office and started to plant dynamite under the desks and behind the filing-cabinets.

From another office I could hear party music and laughter. I crept along a corridor and peered through a partly-opened door. The Secret Leaders of The Conspiracy were taking blood-samples from a line of quaking henchmen. The Leaders were drinking cheap wine and eating party-food, spilling it over the office carpet, laughing and joking and singing. Everyone in the room was dressed as a giant rabbit or bear.....

I retraced my steps to the empty office, where I collected my explosives and grappling hook, and climbed back out the window. After ten minutes of arduous climbing I reached the top of the Bridge. I laid more dynamite along the wide concrete road and then sat back and gazed up at the twinkling stars as I pressed the plunger.....

And many years later I found that the Secret Leaders of the Conspiracy had escaped from my dream, to appear in the new video by LCD Soundsystem. It keeps them off the streets, I suppose.

Sunday 25 April 2010

Doctor Who: The Time Of Angels ( review with spoilers )

River's Back! ( You can't beat the old jokes. )

And so are these guys:

It starts with a message, found in the Delirium Archive by the Doctor and Amy; a twelve-thousand-year-old distress signal, written in Old High Gallifreyan, the lost language of the Time Lords:

Doctor: There were days, there were many days, when these words could burn stars, and raise up empires, and topple gods.....
Amy: What does it say?
Doctor: "Hello sweetie....."

Aaaand we're off and running. Before we have time to er, blink, the Doc and Amy have rescued the enigmatic River Song ( who else? ) from explosive decompression, chased down a crashed spaceship, hooked up with some paramilitary priests and joined an expedition into a "Maze Of The Dead", all in a day's work!

But the main thing on Amy's mind seems to be the Doctor's marital status:

Doctor: A Weeping Angel, Amy, is the deadliest, most powerful, most malevolent lifeform evolution has ever produced and right now one of them is trapped inside that wreckage and I'm supposed to climb in after it with a screwdriver and a torch, and assuming I survive the radiation long enough, and assuming the whole ship doesn't explode in my face, do something incredibly clever which I haven't actually thought of yet. That's my day, that's what I'm up to. Any questions?
Amy: Is River Song your wife?

The Doctor/River relationship is the emotional heart of this story, but wrapped around it is one of the scariest, and strangely most old-school, Doctor Who adventures for years. Steven Moffat has said that if Blink was Aliens ( you know, face-huggers, xenomorphs, claustrophobia ) then this story is Aliens ( more action, more aliens, tough guys with guns ) and the comparison is very apt. The whole look of the episode is epic in scale, from the crashed Byzantium to the many-layered Maze Of The Dead, to River's outrageous airlock escape. But there's still time for a very creepy, small-scale scene with Amy trapped in the Clerics' drop-ship with a Ringu-like "haunted" video tape of an Angel. A video tape that starts to come to life.....

Moffatt ratchets up the tension as the Doctor and co. penetrate further into the labyrinth under the wrecked ship, only to find they are surrounded by hundreds of Weeping Angels. And the lights are going out. Brrr!! The cliffhanger is a masterpiece of script, music, and acting by Matt Smith. ( And don't forget, this is actually the first episode the new team filmed last Summer - and Smith nailed the part from day one! )
The only problem comes right at the last minute when another old nemesis of the Doctor's literally pops up to cause trouble: Graham Norton! Or, to be accurate, an animated Graham Norton ident, trailing the following episode of Andrew Lloyd Webber's latest self-promotion-fest. Aaaaarrrggghhh!!! Thanks, BBC! An object lesson in how to sabotage one of your own programmes and lose the audience's good will. Apparently the corporation received over 6000 complaints for this. What's the matter with people - don't they like being treated like idiots? Anyway, I'll leave you with the Doctor's soon-to-be-classic speech from the cliffhanger:

Doctor: Didn't anyone ever tell you - there's one thing you don't put in a trap, if you're smart, if you value your continuing existence, if you have any plans about seeing tomorrow, there's one thing you never, ever, put in a trap.....
Bob: And what would that be sir?
Doctor: .....Me.

Oh, and Mickey? Five out of Five Bow Ties :-)

Steranko Saturdays: Thinking Outside The Box

This week a couple of groovy Steranko designs for magazine binders. I think the Jaunty One could have designed cereal packets and still made them look dynamic!

300th post

Predictable as ever, Mr. Cerebus660.....

Friday 23 April 2010

St. George's Day

And now, a word from our sponsor:

"I am informed on fairly good authority that the day upon which I write these words is St. George's Day. It is very characteristic of our country that we make far more fuss about St. Patrick's Day than we do about St. George's. It is a part of that curious elephantine modesty of the English in some matters: a modesty so heavy and helpless that foreigners mistake it for pride.....
I do not know why it is, but the English really have got a certain kind of embarrassment and dislike of show....."

GK Chesterton, from "St. George For England", 1906.
Published in "The Glass Walking-Stick And Other Essays." ( Good title for a blog... )

Tuesday 20 April 2010


According to the NME legendary Newport venue, TJ's, is due to shut for financial reasons. Although always a bit of a dive, over the years the venue played host to such bands as Nirvana, the Manics, Oasis, Joe Strummer, Green Day and er, the Death Planet Commandos. Sadly that means there's one less independent rock venue in the world not owned by O2, Carling, Mc.Donald's etc.

Sunday 18 April 2010

Doctor Who: Victory Of The Daleks ( review with spoilers )

Dalek: "You are the Doctor. You must be exterminated!"
The Doctor: "Don't mess with me, sweetheart!"

So, this week it's the resurrection of the Daleks ( where have I heard that before? ) in Mark Gatiss' s "Bank Holiday war movie in 45 minutes". The Doctor and Amy are summoned by Winston Churchill ( a very jowly Ian McNeice ) to the cabinet War Rooms at the height of the Blitz. Here ol' bulldog-features unveils Britain's new secret weapon, the Bracewell Ironside, a strangely familiar, khaki-clad metal pepperpot. Of course, it's a Dalek and the Doctor has to convince Churchill that his new ally is really humanity's biggest enemy..... after Mr. A. Hitler that is.

The episode's early scenes are spookily atmospheric with the servile Daleks gliding around the War Rooms, while the Doctor looks on, waiting for the opportunity to "out" them as evil space-fascists. Matt Smith is convincingly worried and rattled by the Daleks' presence until he can't stand any more and literally throws a spanner in the works.

"You! Are! My! Enemy! And I am yours! You are everything I despise, the worst thing in all creation. I have defeated you time and time again. I've defeated you: I sent you back into the Void; I saved the whole of reality from you! I am the Doctor and you are the Daleks!"

Unfortunately, after this classic Doctor/Dalek confrontation, the episode goes a bit off the boil. Like Gatiss's last Who effort, The Idiot's Lantern, all the elements of a good story are present but they don't seem properly developed. The revelation of Bracewell's identity is too much of a cliche; the Spitfires-in-space idea is a wonderfully bonkers and typically Doctor Who concept, but the way it's set up is a gaping chasm of implausibility; Amy is sidelined for too much of the story and, critically, so is the rather caricatured Churchill.

And then we come to Daleks: The Next Generation.....

As the new, Technicolor Daleks roll off their production line, it becomes clear that this whole episode exists just to introduce a new Dalek race for the Doc to fight, to basically push the Reset button to pre-Time War days. And whereas the 2005-model Dalek was mostly faithful to the classic design, except for a few tweaks to make it seem more solid and menacing, the 2010-plate Skaro mutant is a whole new tincan. They now come in a range of colours ( fantabulosa! ) and are much chunkier, with a tank-like shape and deeper bases. In fact, a kind of cross between the Peter Cushing movie versions and the "Remembrance" Special Weapons Dalek. Respect to the production team for having the Dalek-balls to redesign such an iconic image, but they do seem plastic-y and more toy-friendly. I'm not sure if I like 'em or not: I'll have to sleep on it. ( That said, we have been amazed for years that Lego have never come out with a Doctor Who range of toys. These new Daleks seem custom-made for the Danish plastic brick empire. James would certainly love it! )

All in all, I'd give the episode 3 or maybe 3 1/2 out of 5 stars. If I did star ratings.
( Should I do star ratings? All the genre mags seem obsessed with them. ) There were some lovely moments in this episode - Churchill picking the Doctor's pocket for the Tardis key, the haunted look in Matt Smith's eyes as he faced the triumphant Daleks, that wonderful bit ( or bite ) with the Jammie Dodger - but I wouldn't call it a real "Victory". And, sadly, the ratings would also support that. To end on a positive note, the Amy Pond mystery deepens: why is she unaware of the Daleks?

"They invaded your world, remember. Planets in the sky - you don't forget that. Amy..... tell me you remember the Daleks....."

Friday 16 April 2010

Spike: Goon but not forgotten

There are holes in the sky
Where the rain gets in,
But they're ever so small
That's why rain is thin.

I think that I shall never see
A poem as lovely as a tree.

I must go down to the sea again,
To the lonely sea and the sky,
I left my vest and socks there,
I wonder if they're dry?

Spike Milligan - author, actor, reluctant soldier, Goon, conservationist, poet, comedy genius.
16th April 1918 - 27th February 2002.

Monday 12 April 2010

cerebus660 is SFXy

I must say it felt pretty good ( if not actually SFXy ) to wander into my local WH Smith at the weekend and find a ( tiny ) cerebus660 byline in the latest issue of The World's Number One Sci-Fi Magazine. This was a capsule review I posted on the SFX website about Lucius Shephard's Life During Wartime - previously mentioned here. Page follows, needing maximum clickage for bigness.....

The problem is that cyber-me thinks "Great! The cerebus660 brand name is expanding into new territories. The world will soon be mine! Hahahahahaha etc."

However, real-world-me thinks: "Bugger! Should have put me real name on it!"

Sunday 11 April 2010

Doctor Who: The Beast Below ( review with spoilers )

"Life on a giant starship: back to basics - bicycles, washing-lines, wind-up streetlamps. But look closer - secrets in shadows, lives led in fear, a society bent out of shape, on the brink of collapse, a police state!"

The Beast Below, the second episode of the Matt Smith / Steven Moffat Doctor Who, is a surreal, strange sort of, er, beast. The idea of the Doctor finding himself in a claustrophobic, repressive microcosm of Great Britain and bringing down the status quo in the space of one day could easily have come from Sylvester McCoy's time. And so could some of the dialogue: "Hold tight - we're bringing down the government!" But there are also parallels with another 2nd episode: Chris Eccleston's The End Of The World - the new companion's first trip through time is to a vast construct in space after Earth has been deserted, due to the Sun roasting the planet; the companion begins to understand the Time Lord's burden as he talks about his dead race; the Doctor and the companion share a moment by a huge picture-window that looks out on the stars; a female aristocrat makes a sacrifice to help save the day. So, many familiar elements, but the story also has the Grand Moff's own twist, his "fairy tales with fangs" approach:

For starters, Starship UK is a wonderful conceit: the whole of Great Britain ( well, minus Scotland ) bolted together into one giant, bustling, clanging starship, drifting through the universe, looking for a new home. The sinister Smilers ( see above ) are purpose-built to creep out the kiddies with their painted-on smiles and revolving heads that reveal their frowning, snarling other sides.

The Starwhale concept is almost a melancholy, heart-rending take on the Discworld's Great A'Tuin and makes for a poignant climax to the story. As well as some extremely gross humour and glorious Moffat dialogue:

Amy: "This whole place is a mouth? We're in a mouth?!"
The Doctor: "Yes yes yes! But on the plus side - roomy!"

Also in keeping with fairy tales we see children being an integral part of the story, and one of those classic fairy tale characters, the queen in disguise, walking her subjects' streets in a hood and a mask:

"I'm the bloody Queen, mate. Basically, I rule!"

The story also serves to bring the Doctor and Amy closer together. She makes a deadly mistake and takes her position as companion for granted. The Doctor loses his temper ( good to see Smith "do" anger ) and threatens to take her home. Quick-thinking Amy redeems herself by sussing out the mystery at the heart of Starship UK, saving both the human population and the Starwhale, and going on to show the Doctor that she is beginning to understand him and they can work well together. They'll need to, 'cos next week they're up against the Daleks.....

Thursday 8 April 2010

Malcolm McLaren

All over t'internet tonight is news of the untimely death of Malcolm McLaren, "Punk mogul" ( according to the NME ), musician, fashion guru, TV presenter, artist and, to be honest, a bit of a prat. Shamelessly self-promoting and self-important, McLaren was never the less an anarchist ( or "situationist" ) at heart who had a rare talent for stirring things up and courting controversy. As a manager/svengali he brought us the following:

The Sex Pistols: "Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?"

Adam Ant in pre-Dandy Highwayman days.

Bow Wow Wow - Controversial Album Sleeve! Shock! Horror!

McLaren also unsuccessfully managed the New York Dolls, helped spread the hip hop gospel with Afrika Bambaataa and "Duck Rock", sold pervy clothes to middle-aged businessmen ( see photo above ), smuggled opera into the charts, and even composed music for British Airways adverts. Suffice it to say ( that's a great phrase! ) McLaren was a true character, one of the few in a business now taken over by accountants and Simon bloody Cowell.

RIP Malcolm McLaren 22 Jan. 1946 - 8 April 2010

Monday 5 April 2010

Frankenstone the crows!

Hi to new Follower, Gisa, from the blog Prosie Giessie - all the way from Indonesia! I'm afraid I don't speak the language ( I have enough trouble with English! ) and Blogger's Translate button only makes things worse, but it seems our Gisa is a tattoo-lovin' punk bass-player in a band called The Frankenstone. And that could just be the coolest thing in the world!

Doctor Who: The Eleventh Hour ( review with added spoilers )

"An alien convict is hiding in your spare room, disguised as a man and a dog, and some other aliens are about to incinerate your house. Any questions?"

The Eleventh Hour is the story of Amelia ( later Amy ) Pond, the girl who waited, and the Raggedy Doctor who returned to save her. It's Steven Moffat's regenerated Doctor Who: new leading actors, new title sequence and theme music, new Tardis, new bow tie, new adventures in time and space.

The Atraxi: "You are not of this world!"
The Doctor: "No, but I've put a lot of work into it..."

First things first ( and that's a really dumb phrase when you think about it ) - the 11th Doctor is here! Matt Smith is a delight as the bonkers, uncoordinated, reckless new incarnation of our favourite Time Lord. He absolutely nails the part in his first appearance, equally at home sharing fish fingers and custard with young Amelia, or facing down an alien eye-in-the-sky, or racing around an English village like a demented giraffe. No doubt his take on the Doc will be plagued with the familiar whinges for a while - "he's too young", "he looks weird", "he's not David Tennant" - but for me at least he da man! And that scene on the rooftop, where the multi-tasking Doctor chooses his new look, frightens away scary alien bounty hunters and reminds us of past glories, all at the same time, is sure to go down in Who-history as a classic moment.

OK, what else?
The good: I love the new Tardis interior, with its Jules Verne meets Willy Wonka vibe; the hints of things to come - the Pandorica, "Silence will fall...", the cracks in reality - are tantalising; the whole fairy-tale look of the show, especially night-time scenes, is wonderful - as in the actual sense of wonder - something lacking on our telly screens of late; the new title sequence, while not as innovative as I might have hoped, is a perfect introduction to the show, and I definitely prefer the new logo to the old.
However, that brings us to.....

The not-so-good: The revamped theme music is a let-down - for the first few bars the music is unrecognisable, but when the familiar refrain kicks in it seems too bland, all the mystery drained from it. Hopefully it'll grow on me.
The villain of the piece, Prisoner Zero, is fine in shape-shifting, human-imitating mode ( especially as played by the wonderful but under-used Olivia Colman ) but is a dud in ropy CGI snake-thing mode. Shades of the Mara!

But these are minor quibbles. The episode was great fun and a fine introduction to the new team. Speaking of which, and last but not least ( another dumb phrase! ) we come to:

The Doctor: "Amy Pond, the girl who waited. You've waited long enough."

Karen Gillan is great as Amy, the girl who waited for her Doctor to return. And waited. And waited. It'll be interesting to see how their relationship develops: Amy has known the Doctor all her life but he let her down by disappearing for 12 years - and then another 2! She's joined him on his adventures through time and space but won't take him for granted and is certain to challenge him when he needs challenging. There's more for us to learn about Amy and her life and there are hints that the Doctor knows more about her than he's letting on. This is obviously a thread that will develop throughout the season: I can't wait! Karen Gillan's performance in this first story is fiesty, sassy etc. etc. ( you know - all the usual companion cliches ) but also subtle. Watch her facial expressions when dealing with her "boyfriend" Rory, or when downplaying her kiss-o-gram "work" or her "Raggedy Doctor" childhood stories. Subtle and funny. Karen Gillan is definitely an actress to watch, so I'll finish with a totally gratuitous photo of the lady herself, wearing not very much.....

See you back here next week for The Beast Below.

Sunday 4 April 2010

The Eleventh Hour

Just a few images from The Eleventh Hour, Matt Smith's first triumphant outing as The Doctor. ( Beware - here be minor spoilers! ) Proper review to follow when I can stop my head from spinning.....

Friday 2 April 2010

Favourite Gig Fridays: The Supernaturals

You know those "almost" bands? The ones who almost make it but miss out on that all-important big break? Glasgow's The Supernaturals are a prime example. They came along as the Britpop scene was just past its peak, and they were buried by the mass of bandwagon-jumpers and no-talents who clogged up the charts at the time, all hoping for a piece of that Oasis/Blur/Pulp action. Which is a shame because, even though they might not have proved it by record sales, they were a cracking live band.

They seemed to be constantly touring during their short existence and I saw them a number of times with my mate Glenn: at Gloucester Guildhall ( a couple of times ), Cheltenham Night Owl and The Fleece in Bristol - there might have been others I can't remember ( over to you Glenn...) - all great gigs. If I have to choose one I'll go for the Night Owl gig, coincidentally the site of my Official Worst Gig Of All Time as well.

The venue was a packed, pokey little hole and the band were on top form, with much onstage banter between singer James and keyboard abuser Ken, and some major audience participation. In other words we jumped up and down, bellowed out the songs, laughed at James's stories and helped him take the piss out of Ken. The 'Naturals ( as we insisted on shouting out at them ) played a set bursting with melodic, anthemic indie with a definite '60s flavour. And what great songs: Please Be Gentle With Me, Lazy Lover, The Day Before Yesterday's Man, Smile - the latter being their most well-known tune, from countless TV adverts. They weren't the remotest bit edgy or innovative or self-consciously cool, but they were something just as important: FUN! A Supernaturals gig put a grin on your face from start to finish and you would have to be clinically dead from the neck down not to get up and dance/pogo/whatever.

I actually wore a 'Naturals T-shirt to the gig ( blue with a big, red "S" - where have I seen that before? ) and a very pretty young girl asked me if I was with the band - I had to admit I wasn't. ( Damn! )

Soundtrack: It Doesn't Matter Any More by The Supernaturals


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